Leaving the ‘hood

Thursday, 10 August 2023

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Leaving the ‘hood

Wandering Hooded Plover turns up in northern NSW

There are two distinct populations of Hooded Plovers in Australia: one is found in southern parts of Western Australia, while the other occurs in south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania.

The birds in Western Australia undertake regular movements between coastal regions and inland salt lakes, but further east, it’s a different story.

It was once thought that south-eastern Hooded Plovers were sedentary. People would see a pair of Hooded Plovers on the beach every day and assume that it was always the same birds. However, soon after researchers began banding Hooded Plovers and were able to identify individual birds, it became clear that they often move about, though not with the regularity of their western cousins.

BirdLife Australia’s Beach Nesting Birds team and its band of volunteers have recorded all manner of movements by south-eastern Hoodies. Some have been local—flying to an adjacent beach, for example—while others have involved birds moving between regions, with distances covered sometimes measuring hundreds of kilometres.

Indeed, the longest movement by a banded Hooded Plover was 376 kilometres, after the bird flew from Boydtown, in south-eastern New South Wales, to Wilsons Promontory, in southern Victoria.

However, a recent sighting of a Hooded Plover on a beach near Evans Head, in northern New South Wales, has humbled this record. The bird was unbanded, so its departure point is unknown. However, judging by its plumage, the bird hatched last breeding season, and the most northerly known breeding site is at Jervis Bay. Armed with that knowledge, it is thought that the bird must have travelled at least 850 kilometres, and so is well beyond the species’ usual range!

Amazingly, this isn’t the most northerly record of a Hooded Plover, as odd birds have turned up on beaches in southern Queensland, so the Evans Head bird—despite its prodigious journey—doesn’t break the (assumed) record.

These Hooded Plovers with wanderlust pose questions about their conservation. With a conservation status of Vulnerable, they need protection wherever they are. This is particularly pertinent in New South Wales, where the total population of Hooded Plovers is around 65 birds.

Birdlife Australia’s National Public Affairs Manager, Sean Dooley, said the bird’s presence so far out of its normal range provides an important lesson on how to better protect it.

“Even though this is a very rare event for it to travel so far, what it does show is you can’t protect this species by just protecting one beach,” Mr Dooley told the ABC.

“We really need to be conscious that right up and down the coast [that] we’re not the only ones using the beach, and we need to be respectful of other beach users, whether they’re humans or wildlife.”